This superb large canvas is the first landscape painting of an Irish city commissioned by Waterford Corporation in 1736 from William Van der Hagen, for the sum of £20.
Waterford and the glory of its location is on view - the majestic River Suir and waterfront, the ‘most elegant quays in Europe’, accommodating a large number of ships and testifying that international trade was the lifeblood of this ancient port city.
Willem Van der Hagen, regarded as the father of Irish landscape painter, spent quite a lot of time in Waterford and executed many paintings including an altarpiece in St Patrick’s church described in Smith’s History as ‘a Glory ... well-performed’.
Thirty years after the demolition of the medieval defences along the Quay, all that survives is Reginald’s Tower, the defensive walls being replaced by tall elegant buildings known as ‘Dutch Billys’, showing the influence of Dutch settlers.
The medieval towers and stretches of wall to the west of the city are shown in the painting as are the belltowers of Greyfriars, Blackfriars and the medieval Christ Church Cathedral demolished some thirty years later. In the background you can clearly see the floodplain of St John's River.
The prosperity of the city is echoed in a romanticised prosperous agricultural landscape - in the left foreground hay is being saved, while to the right, suitably separated from the labourers by cattle grazing in the middle, are the gentry in their finery, enjoying a stroll. The victory of William (King Billy) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 ensured the hegemony of the Protestant ruling class.
This painting is more than simply a view of a city experiencing rapid change; it is a statement by the new oligarchy that this is their city. Certainly most of their grandfathers had been born elsewhere but this new generation was of Waterford and the pride they felt in their city caused this painting to be commissioned.